Patterico's Pontifications

12/7/2004

L.A. Times Refuses to Correct Two Statements of an Urban Legend

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,No on 66 — Patterico @ 9:27 pm

Regular readers will recall that, last month, the L.A. Times ran an editorial and a letter to the editor falsely claiming that someone is serving 25-to-life under the Three Strikes law for stealing pizza. After badgering the “Readers’ Representative” for a correction, I’ve gotten a response, which I will summarize as: “No, we won’t issue a correction. Why? Because we said so.”

Let’s recap:

The Times printed an editorial with this language:

Two dozen states and the federal government have passed “three strikes and you’re out” laws, but only in California can any felony, even a petty theft, trigger a 25-year-to-life sentence. Everyone has heard the stories — of the guy who swiped a slice of pizza and the father who pinched diapers for his kids. Of California’s 7,300 third-strikers, 4,200 are like these lifers, put away for relatively minor offenses. Their “three hots and a cot” cost taxpayers $31,000 a year each.

I wrote a post explaining that the sentence of the infamous pizza thief had been reduced to six years, a sentence he had long since completed. Several of my readers wrote to the paper to complain, and the Assistant “Readers’ Representative” told them that their complaint had been passed on to the op-ed editors.

The next day, after having been told of the true facts, the paper printed a letter to the editor that repeated the same falsehood in its first sentence:

Re “Lawmen Vow to Press for Funding,” Nov. 4: Maybe if California stopped spending $35,000 to $45,000 a year per inmate doing life sentences for stealing pizza and aspirins, there would be more money for police officers to stop the truly violent criminals.

This time I wrote the “Readers’ Representative” myself, complaining that the folks in charge of the opinion pages could plead (appalling) ignorance at the time the editorial was printed, but not at the time that the letter to the editor was published. By then, they were explicitly on notice of the truth.

Almost a month passed with no response. I re-sent my e-mail. It was clear to me that no correction was going to issue, but I was truly fascinated to see how they would justify it. I know that, at least in theory, the editors have a policy of correcting falsehoods in letters. I know that the letter I complained about stated a falsehood. What would the reasoning be for letting that falsehood stand? I couldn’t wait to see.

Today I got my response. Allow to print it in its entirety:

The letters editor did not believe this warranted correction. I realize you disagree.

Jamie Gold
Readers’ Representative

No wonder it took a month!

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